The first car I ever drove that wasn’t American-made was a Citroën 11 Traction Avant. It looked like a chopped-and-channeled ’34 Ford, and saying it made a deep impression on me — with its low center of gravity and incredible (for 1952) cornering ability — is understatement worthy of a British lord. Since then, I’ve loved the concept of letting advanced engineering take you wherever it will, common practice be damned. I’ve owned four Citroëns and have driven dozens of different models, from the superlative SM down to a prototype 1938 2CV, and genuinely admire the company for its often-great products.
From the time André Lefèbvre joined Citroën from Avions Voisin to create the Traction, Citroën has been a leader in extremely advanced engineering, including its hydropneumatic suspension, the first disc brakes fitted to a series production car, and the first use of microprocessors and integrated digital ignition. Many of the world’s best car designers, even Giorgetto Giugiaro, enormously admired the greatest of all big Citroëns, the 1955 DS19. In truth its aerodynamic styling was just an artful application of Bob Bourke’s 1953 Studebaker coupe’s lines to the 1934-’57 Traction Avant seating package. Its top model successor, the CX, was also a copied design, basically a polished theft of Pininfarina’s BMC 1800 concept car by Citroën chief stylist Robert Opron. But to his credit Opron also created the highly original SM — widely considered to be the pinnacle of all Citroën designs.
Acquired by Peugeot in the 1970s, Citroën offered the XM, an awkward Bertone-styled machine with numerous innovations, including hydraulic suspension that gave the world’s best ride — when it worked properly. Not a big sales success, it stayed in production “until we bought all the components we promised the vendors we’d take,” a PR spokesperson told me. After a period with no range-topping model, the C6 was introduced, a handsome but sadly underpowered machine no more salable than the XM had been. It was quickly removed from production, again leaving Citroën without a flagship.
With the Cxperience concept revealed at Paris 2016, the company seems determined to develop an evocative model worthy of its heritage — partially usurped by a marque carrying the appropriated DS name for some overdecorated Peugeots. Electric motors supplement a proper engine this time. The Cxperience concept is an infinitely better approach to a top Citroën. American Art Blakeslee, who led Citroën style in the ’80s and ’90s, said “a great Citroën has a long nose, a surprising centerline profile, and a really short rear overhang.” The Cxperience conforms to those ideals and looks far better than cars “inspired by” American and Italian stylists from Citroën’s history. This is in the tradition of great marques long gone. If it comes to market, it’s likely to become one of the great cars itself.
1. Panels on an upturned surface open to increase cooling when needed, as seen on Bugattis and Hispano-Suizas in the past.
2. The Citroën double-chevron badge is incorporated in the grille, conceptually close to what was done from the 1920s to the ’50s, when they were dissociated from the grille work.
3. Not that there is a great deal of said grille work. The air intake is slim on top, rather like a jet engine intake on the front corners, and supplemented by the panels below.
4. Slim, wide, LED headlamps describe an arrow in front and side views.
5. Daytime running/marker lamps are staggered, repeating the inward-pointing arrowhead theme.
6. Blades have become a feature on many cars, some mimicking Formula 1 aerodynamic diverters, some just for decoration and distinction (Audi R8), but these are functional, moving devices, articulated on a vertical axis.
7. All glass in the upper structure is compound-curved and mounted exterior to all support structures with
no external surface discontinuities.
Very impressive with dark tint everywhere. Not allowed in production but striking in a show car.
8. Rearview cameras really need to be out where mirror glass would be, but these slim stalks do not obstruct the driver’s forward view as many mirrors do, especially for shorter drivers.
9. Cupboard-style doors—hinged in at the A- and C-pillars with the B-pillar completely hidden within dark glass—are an appealing solution and are likely to come back in production as they have in BMW’s i3.
10. Notice the roof shape is not really a fastback. There is an inflection point at the top of the C-pillar and again at the base of the glass, where it intersects with the minimal decklid. The entire backlight lifts as a hatch.
11. Black buttresses provide protection and allow the painted skin of the body side to sweep around the rear corners dramatically.
12. A strong, sharp horizontal line above the sill abruptly turns up in the rear door skin, allowing the deep indentation in the side without interfering with the full-width wheel opening.
13. The bulge of the front fender terminates in an outlet from the underhood ahead, where there is presumably a lot of heat generation from both internal combustion engine and electrical propulsion elements.
14. The painted portion of the roof is a U-shaped band that simply disappears into the rear quarter glass.
15. This cool, small panel supports the upper door latches, allowing a much thinner main roof structure.
16. The CHMSL is at the rear of what appears to be a fairly wide structural member leading from the windshield header bar to the C-pillar crossmember beneath the roof glass.
17. Taillights repeat the arrowhead graphic scheme, pointing inward in rear view, with converging elements pointing forward in side view inside rounded triangle openings on the corners.
18. Exhaust ports in the bumper fascia recapitulate the general shape of the moveable inlets in front, but with the trapezoidal perimeters inverted.
19.The mass under the taillights is actually the outer skin of the trunk’s rectilinear volume, made invisible with nonreflective black.
20. It would seem there are air outlets behind the vertical blades that are able to move in and out on a vertical pivot axis. You can just see the top of the pivot shaft.
21. As a trim element, this hockey stick shape starting behind the A-pillar and ending with the painted roof sill is a nice, subtle touch, much better than bright trim would be.
22. This turn-in allows a shelf that’s almost a running board in appearance in the bottom of the body side indent.
23. Wood seems out of place in a Citroën somehow, an antithesis to the highly technological nature of the beast. It does look nice, though.
24. The front door inner panels are fairly convoluted, with the rearview camera readout screens tucked in at the front of the armrest shelves.
25. We all laughed when British Leyland used a “quartic” steering wheel. Now everyone does it, even nonconformist Citroën.
26. An impactful wide screen is used by the passenger as well as the driver, who has three others at his or her service.
27. The seat surface moves up to provide a side bolster for front-seat occupants, but only inboard, against the central tunnel.